The Arizona Wildcats won't be a part of the 2013 Final Four, but they still have a chance to pull off one of college basketball's biggest victories this week.
Aaron Gordon, a power forward from San Jose, Calif., who is one of the top remaining prospects in the class of 2013, is scheduled to announce his college choice around the McDonald's All-American Game, which will be held Wednesday in Chicago.
Gordon, on the West team, has narrowed his finalists to Arizona, Kentucky, Oregon and Washington. And while UA is stacked up with forwards now, Arizona remains optimistic about its chances.
His decision is just one of several storylines to follow this spring while the Wildcats enter a fifth offseason under coach Sean Miller. Among the others:
1. The freshmen can keep turning into sophomores. College players' biggest improvement often happens between their freshman and sophomore years because they have experience to draw from while going through offseason workouts.
Considering the late-season improvement that UA freshmen big men Kaleb Tarczewski, Grant Jerrett and Brandon Ashley all showed, they may already be on the way to getting there.
Against Belmont in their first NCAA tournament game, for example, the three combined for 22 points on 10-for-16 shooting, 21 rebounds, and three blocks.
"If you followed our team in the last month, (Tarczewski) has really hit his stride," Miller said a day after the Belmont game. "Almost simultaneously to him hitting his stride, Brandon Ashley and Grant Jerrett have as well. They're more productive and confident.
"They're no longer freshmen. They know what to do."
2. It's T.J.'s time. After a year of practice on the scout team while he sat out the required redshirt season, Duquesne transfer T.J. McConnell will instantly become the No. 1 point guard when the Wildcats hold spring and summer workouts.
It will be the first time Miller has had a proven, pass-first point guard during his four-plus years in Tucson. He has had scoring-minded points in Nic Wise (2009-10), MoMo Jones (2010-11) and Mark Lyons (2012-13), plus an on-and-off the court bust in Josiah Turner (2011-12).
McConnell averaged 5.5 assists and 11.4 points per game as a sophomore at Duquesne in 2011-12, and has better than a 2-1 assist-turnover ratio for his career.
He also drew some comparisons offensively to Ohio State's Aaron Craft last week in Los Angeles.
"Very similar," forward Solomon Hill said. "Those guys have a passion for the game. T.J. is the same way and he brings that intensity to the team."
3. Transition season. The months of April and May are usually heavy in roster transition at Arizona, with players leaving for the NBA early or for other schools, if playing time is an issue. Transfers moving up, such as McConnell and Lyons did last spring, can also arrive.
But evidence so far suggests change may be minimal this spring. The UA staff appears to be confident that all three freshmen big men will return, though Ashley is projected as a mid-first round NBA pick in 2014 by Draft Express.
Tarczewski said he definitely planned to return and would be spending much of the summer in Tucson again.
"I'm going to be working out a lot," he said.
While guard Gabe York and forward Angelo Chol might appear candidates to transfer based on their inability to stick in Miller's playing rotation, York indicated during the first weekend of the NCAA tournament that he had no plans to transfer this offseason.
"I'm doing fine," York said. "I know next year we have a lot of scorers who aren't going to be here so I'm just going to wait and see what happens."
Chol said repeatedly during the postseason that he is still supporting what the program needs, though he could become a redshirt candidate next season with so many frontcourt players back and Cochise College transfer Matt Korcheck coming out of his redshirt.
4. Parrom's long-shot waiver request. UA should know within the next two months if its unusual request for a medical hardship waiver for guard-forward Kevin Parrom will be approved, allowing him to return for a fifth season in 2013-14.
Parrom suffered from foot injuries as a freshman in 2009-10 and a junior in 2011-12 and was shot before the 2011-12 season. But he has played in far more games than allowed to qualify under normal medical hardship criteria, which specify players can play in no more than 30 percent of a team's games (typically about 11 in basketball) and none in the second half of a season.
Parrom played in 17 games as a freshman, about half of which came after the halfway mark, and 20 games in 2011-12, four of which came after the halfway mark.
UA is seeking to file a "kitchen sink" type request that wraps in all the cumulative time Parrom has missed. It is also likely to note that Miller said a big reason he did not redshirt Parrom in 2011-12 was because of the mental adversity that sitting out might cause following the shooting incident and the death of his mother.
However, Parrom has repeatedly expressed a lack of concern over whether the waiver is approved or not, saying he's fine either way.
"I don't know" what could happen, Parrom said on Thursday. "I have no clue. I have to talk to Coach about what's going on with my future."
5. Fleshing out the 2013 recruiting class. Gordon is the biggest name left on UA's 2013 wish list, but the Wildcats actually have two open spots remaining and there are still a number of ways in which they can fill them.
If Parrom somehow returns, that wipes one scholarship off the board and Gordon could take the other one. But there's always the possibility of another four-year transfer who could come in and sit out the required redshirt season or, as Lyons arrived last spring, another player could arrive via the "rent-a-grad" list that allows players who have graduated but still have eligibility left to play immediately at their next school.
As of now, UA has nine scholarship players scheduled to return. The Wildcats already have two incoming freshmen signed - forward Rondae Jefferson and guard Elliott Pitts - for a current total of 11 on their 2013-14 roster. UA has the maximum of 13 scholarships available now that NCAA sanctions that limited it to 12 scholarships the past two seasons have expired.
On StarNet: Find photos from Arizona's tournament run at azstarnet.com/gallery
The next chapter
UA's two biggest storylines for the 2013-2014 season:
Developing the bigs
Brandon Ashley, right, Grant Jerrett and Kaleb Tarczewski (not pictured) are all expected to return.
Making a point
Duquesne transfer T.J. McConnell will be Arizona's first pure point guard in the Miller era.